By Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston
HERLONG, California (CNN) - If you need an example of why it is hard to cut the budget in Washington look no further than this Army depot in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada range.
CNN was allowed rare access to what amounts to a parking lot for more than 2,000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Here, about an hour's drive north of Reno, Nevada, the tanks have been collecting dust in the hot California desert because of a tiff between the Army and Congress.
The U.S. has more than enough combat tanks in the field to meet the nation's defense needs - so there's no sense in making repairs to these now, the Army's chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress earlier this year.
If the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new tanks for three years until new technologies are developed, the Army says it can save taxpayers as much as $3 billion.
That may seem like a lot of money, but it's a tiny sacrifice for a Defense Department that will cut $500 billion from its budget over the next decade and may be forced to cut a further $500 billion if a deficit cutting deal is not reached by Congress.
Why is this a big deal? For one, the U.S. hasn't stopped producing tanks since before World War II, according to lawmakers.
Plus, from its point of view the Army would prefer to decide what it needs and doesn't need to keep America strong while making tough economic cuts elsewhere.
"When a relatively conservative institution like the U.S. military, which doesn't like to take risks because risks get people killed, says it has enough tanks, I think generally civilians should be inclined to believe them," said Travis Sharp a fellow at the defense think tank, New American Security.
But guess which group of civilians isn't inclined to agree with the generals on this point?
To be exact, 173 House members - Democrats and Republicans - sent a letter April 20 to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting their decision to produce more tanks.
That's right. Lawmakers who frequently and loudly proclaim that presidents should listen to generals when it comes to battlefield decisions are refusing to take its own advice.
If the U.S. pauses tank production and refurbishment it will hurt the nation's industrial economy, lawmakers say.
"The combat vehicle industrial base is a unique asset that consists of hundreds of public and private facilities across the United States," the letter said. The outlook for selling Abrams tanks to other nations appears "stronger than prior years," the letter said. But those sales would be "inadequate to sustain the industrial base and in some cases uncertain. In light of this, modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to protect the industrial base."
Lima, Ohio, is a long way from this dusty tank parking lot. The tiny town in the northwestern part of the Buckeye State is where defense manufacturing heavyweight General Dynamics makes these 60-plus-ton behemoths.
The tanks create 16,000 jobs and involve 882 suppliers, says Kendell Pease, the company's vice-president of government relations and communications. That job figure includes ancillary positions like gas station workers who fill up employees' cars coming and going to the plant.
Many of the suppliers for tank manufacturing are scattered around the country so the issue of stopping production or refurbishment becomes a parochial one: congressional representatives don't want to kill any jobs in their districts, especially as the economy struggles during an election year.
"General Dynamics is not the industrial base," Pease said. "It is small vendors."
But General Dynamics certainly has a stake in the battle of the tanks and is making sure its investment is protected, according to research done by The Center for Public Integrity, a journalism watchdog group.
What its reporters found was General Dynamics campaign contributions given to lawmakers at key times, such as around congressional hearings, on whether or not to build more tanks.
"We aren't saying there's vote buying" said Aaron Metha, one of the report's authors. "We are saying it's true in pretty much all aspects of politics - but especially the defense industry. It's almost impossible to separate out the money that is going into elections and the special interests. And what we found was the direct spike in the giving around certain important dates that were tied to votes."
Pease said General Dynamics is bipartisan in its giving and there is nothing suspicious in the timing of its donations to members of the House and Senate. The giving is tied to when fundraisers are held in Washington - which is also when Congress is in session, he said.
Lawmakers that CNN interviewed denied that donations influenced their decisions to keep the tanks rolling.
Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican from California and chairman of the House armed services committee, said he didn't know General Dynamics had given him $56,000 in campaign contributions since 2009 until CNN asked him about it.
"You know, the Army has a job to do and we have a job to do," McKeon said. "And they have tough choices because they've been having their budget cut."
McKeon said he's thinking about the long range view. "... If someone could guarantee us that we'll never need tanks in the future, that would be good. I don't see that guarantee."
Similarly, his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who has received $64,000 from General Dynamics since 2001, said he is worried about the workforce if the Lima plant is closed for three years.
"Listen, we don't want to play Russian Roulette with the national security of this country," Reyes said.
Odierno explained to the committee that it would be cheaper to shut down the tank plant and then restart it in 2017. But his plea was ignored.
"Lima would cost us $2.8 billion just to keep that open and our tank fleet is in good shape and we don't need to because of the great support that we have gotten over the last two years," he told the committee.
But General Dynamics said it will cost a lot less to keep the plant open. Pease said the Army hasn't factored in the huge costs of closing the plant and the potential loss of skilled workers who will be needed come 2017 when the Army plans to remodel the Abrams tank.
"It's not whether they need those tanks, it's how much it costs to restart it," said Pease. General Dynamics, he said, will survive with or without refurbishing tanks over the next three years.
So how did Congress respond to Gen. Odeirno's request to shut down production until 2017?
The answer came in the proposed congressional budget for next year. It includes $181 million for tanks the Army doesn't want or need now. That begs another question: who will likely get the money for the 70 or so tanks covered by that contract when it goes out for bid?
"General Dynamics would probably get the contract for it anyway because they are kind of the ones that are out there leading the way on this," said McKeon.
The Army tank battle sends an unsettling message to the Defense Department, says Sharp, with the defense think tank. But it's a message that may not surprise a public weary from decades of battles and horse-trading that have defined Capitol Hill.
"The fact that the military is having such a hard time getting this relatively small amount of money to be saved, I think is an indication of the huge uphill fight that the military faces when it comes to Congress," Sharp said. "Congress is going to fight tooth and nail to protect defense investments that benefit their constituents and the people that live in their states."
Maybe the next time the generals go up to the Hill, they should take a cue from the well-protected tanks parked in California. Perhaps they might consider wearing body armor.
CNN's Sara Anwar contributed to this report.
Great article. Couldn't be write much better! Keep it up!
Interesting stuff to read. Keep it up.
Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that make the biggest changes. Thanks for sharing!
You have made some really good points there. I checked on the internet to find out more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this web site.
I used to be able to find good information from your content.
This site certainly has all the information and facts I needed about this subject and didnít know who to ask.
You are so awesome! I don't think I have read something like that before. So great to discover someone with a few original thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is something that's needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!
After looking into a number of the articles on your site, I honestly appreciate your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my website too and let me know what you think.
Great blog you have here.. Itís hard to find high quality writing like yours these days. I honestly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!
Hi there to every body, it's my first pay a quick visit of this webpage; this blog includes remarkable and actually fine information for readers.
Iím impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog thatís both educative and interesting, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this during my search for something regarding this.
Good day! I could have sworn Iíve been to your blog before but after looking at many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím definitely pleased I found it and Iíll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!
When someone writes an paragraph he/she maintains the idea of a user
in his/her brain that how a user can know it. Thus that's why this article is great.
I blog frequently and I genuinely appreciate your content. This great article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to book mark your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your Feed too.
Мобильные 4g прокси для Instagram в Казани ротационные, динамические
I quite like looking through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!
Good post. I definitely love this site. Keep it up!
Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be helpful to read articles from other writers and practice something from other websites.
This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Appreciate it!
There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I love all the points you have made.
An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a friend who had been doing a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I discovered it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this topic here on your web site.
4g прокси в Казани от PROXYSPACE
Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying these details.
hydroxychloroquine malaria https://www.pharmaceptica.com/
I truly love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím planning to create my own website and would love to learn where you got this from or what the theme is named. Thanks!
Great article! We will be linking to this great content on our website. Keep up the good writing.
May I simply say what a comfort to uncover somebody that really knows what they're discussing over the internet. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people ought to check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised you're not more popular since you surely have the gift.
After exploring a number of the blog posts on your site, I seriously appreciate your way of writing a blog. I book marked it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Take a look at my website as well and tell me how you feel.
Very nice article. I certainly appreciate this website. Thanks!
is chloroquine phosphate over the counter https://www.pharmaceptica.com/
sildenafil 100mg canadian pharmacy https://www.pharmaceptica.com/
Iím impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog thatís equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy that I came across this during my hunt for something regarding this.
Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may return yet again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.
Hi! I could have sworn Iíve visited your blog before but after browsing through many of the posts I realized itís new to me. Anyways, Iím certainly delighted I found it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back often!
erectile dysfunction and radiation treatment https://www.pharmaceptica.com/
Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!
Good write-up. I definitely love this website. Stick with it!
Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges. It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing!
sildenafil citrate women https://pharmaceptica.com/
After looking over a few of the blog articles on your website, I seriously appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I saved it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please check out my web site too and tell me what you think.
I love reading an article that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!
Howdy! This blog post couldnít be written any better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I am going to send this article to him. Fairly certain he'll have a great read. Thank you for sharing!
Hello there! I could have sworn Iíve been to this website before but after looking at many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím definitely delighted I found it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back often!
Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I am going to send this post to him. Pretty sure he'll have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!
In Mozilla Firefox how do you customize the toolbars to different colors and styles?
The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won't fail me as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you would probably have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something you can fix if you weren't too busy searching for attention.
Good info. Lucky me I found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!
Iím impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog thatís both educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is something too few men and women are speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I stumbled across this during my search for something concerning this.
Great post. I will be facing many of these issues as well..
Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges. It was definitely informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!
This website certainly has all the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.
Hi, I do think this is a great site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will come back once again since i have saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.
Itís nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people on this subject, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks